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Woody Guthrie's life prompts tales to be recorded

Okemah residents, Guthrie family members and musicians gathered inside the Okfuskee County History Center to casually swap stories about the late, great, songwriting legend.
by Brandy McDonnell Published: July 12, 2014


photo - 
The Red Dirt Rangers’ Brad Piccolo eats ice cream Friday with his daughters Isabel, 9, right, and Ruby, 7, at Sooner Drug Store & Gifts during the Woody Guthrie Festival in Okemah.
  SARAH PHIPPS
The Red Dirt Rangers’ Brad Piccolo eats ice cream Friday with his daughters Isabel, 9, right, and Ruby, 7, at Sooner Drug Store & Gifts during the Woody Guthrie Festival in Okemah. SARAH PHIPPS

Raymond Overall kept the rocking chair creaking steadily on the old wooden porch as he shared stories about Woody Guthrie and his boyhood pals.

“They would go to the Jewel Theatre in Okemah ... and probably see the cowboy picture with Tex Ritter or Tom Mix or somebody like that three or four times and stay on into the evening. Well, anyway, when they did leave the theater, they were needing to pee real bad. They’d been holding it quite a long time,” Overall said with a matter-of-fact amusement.

It seems Guthrie and his friend, Bud Mosier, made it a habit to empty their full bladders in some old tin cans in a shed behind the nearby local drug store, irritating the proprietor.

“He got ahold of a crank telephone, which puts out a pretty good jolt, and he wired it into those tins back there and was waiting on the boys. ... When they started relieving themselves on the tin cans, why, he cranked up the phone and it gave them quite a jolt,” Overall finished, smiling while Guthrie’s sister, Mary Jo Guthrie Edgmon, giggled and son, Arlo Guthrie, belly-laughed.

Woody Guthrie’s sister, Mary Jo Guthrie Edgmon, 91, and son, Arlo Guthrie, tell stories Friday about Woody during the Woody Guthrie Festival in Okemah. 
                     Photos by Sarah Phipps, The Oklahoman
Woody Guthrie’s sister, Mary Jo Guthrie Edgmon, 91, and son, Arlo Guthrie, tell stories Friday about Woody during the Woody Guthrie Festival in Okemah. Photos by Sarah Phipps, The Oklahoman

On Friday during the Woody Guthrie Folk Festival, Okemah residents, Guthrie family members and musicians gathered inside the Okfuskee County History Center to casually swap stories about the late, great, songwriting legend. While the storytellers spun their memories on the front porch of a mocked-up room built of wood from the London House, Guthrie’s one-time childhood home, a videographer kept his camera rolling.

“Nobody’s a prophet in their own country, you know,” Arlo Guthrie said. “Especially during the festival. ... It’s nice to hear stories about my dad with friends that remained friends wherever his career may have gone. It’s nice to just know, because if you’re a celebrity of any kind, a lot of people just have a distance. And it’s nice to hear that he had friends and relatives that he could return to, meet up with, catch up with, who know him for him and not for the work that he did or the trouble he got into or the other stuff that sometimes makes it hard to have a home.

“And home means family and friends and neighbors that stick with you no matter where they go.”

Festive homecoming

The 17th annual WoodyFest continues through Sunday with musical performances, children’s concerts and historical presentations in various venues in the folk icon’s hometown of Okemah. The nonprofit Woody Guthrie Coalition organizes the free festival each year around the famed minstrel’s July 14 birthday.

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by Brandy McDonnell
Entertainment Reporter
Brandy McDonnell, also known by her initials BAM, writes stories and reviews on movies, music, the arts and other aspects of entertainment. She is NewsOK’s top blogger: Her 4-year-old entertainment news blog, BAM’s Blog, has notched more than 1...
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If you go

17th Annual Woody Guthrie Folk Festival

When: Through Sunday.

Where: Various venues in Okemah.

What: Musical performances, children’s concerts, open mike, poetry reading and fundraisers for the state chapter of the Huntington’s Disease Society of America.

Festival admission: Free.

Parking: Free for daytime events; $20 per car (including campers) evenings at the Pastures of Plenty Stage.

More information: www.woodyguthrie.com.

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